Friday, March 26, 2010

A Space Idiocy

Posted complete because of technical problems at UKSpirituality...

A debate took place recently about whether we should actively attempt to contact aliens, and it made me think how very like the inhabitants of planet Krikket from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy we humans are.

The Krikkets lived on a planet completely encompassed by cloud (a lot like England, now I think about it) until one day a spaceship burst through the atmosphere and crashed.

The event caused the Kirkkets to actually look up for the first time and contemplate what lay beyond. They soon knocked together a spaceship and saw the splendor of the universe for the first time.

One astronaut turned to the other. ‘It’ll have to go,’ he said, and thus the galaxy’s most destructive intergalactic war was born.

There was another scene in Hitchhikers when as a punishment they shackled someone to a chair and forced them to see themselves in contrast to the immensity of the universe; how, in a kind of reverse-telescopic effect, they became less and less consequential. It invariably sent the victim mad.

It was actually not unlike this.

There are apparently as many planets in the universe as there are grains of sand on every beach on the world. Think about that next time you bang out your deck shoes. All those tiny planets!

It’s been said that we have replaced our longing for the Messiah for the dream of alien-contact.

I signed up to SETI once – I could see the value in searching for electronic signals from outer-space, and I think the alternative of looking for carbon dioxide (based on the principal that aliens would fart the same as us) is also pretty cool.

However, I think the idea of actually beaming signals in to space to deliberately contact aliens is really, really stupid.

As Dr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said: part of me is with the enthusiasts and I would like us to try to make proactive contact with a wiser, more peaceful civilisation.

But he was concerned at the risks.

We might like to assume that if there is intelligent life out there it is wise and benevolent… but of course we have no evidence for this. Given that the consequences of contact may not be what we initially hoped for, then we need governments and the UN to get involved in any discussions.

Given that the consequences of contact may not be what we initially hoped for.

Yeah, like they might eat us.

With an almost infinite amount of planets, it seems sensible to conclude that there are an almost infinite amount of possibilities, both benevolent and malign.

The smart thing would be to hunker down in the corner of the cave until we have developed enough tools to protect ourselves should we venture outside, or worse – something come in.

But, like the inhabitants of Krikket, I suspect we have an exaggerated sense of our own worth.

Our expectation of “salvation” from the stars could simply turn out to be somebody else’s lunch.